Prayer is a vital component of Christianity, but there are many misconceptions about how it “works.”
Jesus refutes at least three misconceptions in Matthew 6:5-8. Just four verses! 1. Prayer isn't done to call attention to yourself. "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly." (Matthew 6:5-6; NKJV)
Jesus' teaching does not mean you can never pray if anybody else will see or hear you do it. But it does mean we don't pray in order to look good to other people.
2. Short prayers aren't automatically bad. Brief prayers are sometimes frowned upon as if inferior. And they can be a problem if they're short because they are rushed or you aren't putting appropriate thought into your prayer. But long prayers can also be problematic, especially if we say long prayers because we think we MUST say long prayers. Jesus urged "And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think they will be heard for their many words." (Matthew 6:7; NKJV)
3. Prayer isn't about bringing things to God's attention. We might think we have to pray so God will know what's going on in our lives. In truth, God already knows our needs! "Therefore do not be like them. For your Father knows the things you have need of before you ask Him." (Matthew 6:8; NKJV)
There are more than three misconceptions about prayer. But we can avoid falling into these pitfalls by carefully learning and applying what the Bible teaches on this topic. —John